Monday, December 7, 2015

I AM and I WILL

This post is actually part 2 of a 4 part series that I began to put up on this blog site on December 2. They are the sermons that I gave in our church for the four Sundays of Advent. 
These four sermons of Advent are:
1 - Words Without Voices
2 - I AM and I WILL
3 - When God Fell Silent
4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens
 

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I AM and I WILL

Last week I spoke of how all of us, all men and women, every adult and every child - we are all able to learn a lot about God just by observing the environment around ourselves and by contemplating the complexity and personalities of our own being. God is one who creates, and through his creativity, he teaches us much about who he is. It is not much different than when we are coming to know another person. We can learn a lot by seeing the things that this other person makes, whether practical and utilitarian items, or creative and artistic works.

However, if we are truly to know a person, that person must speak to us. We must learn about him not only by what he makes, but also by his words. He must explain his thoughts to us and he must tell us with words about himself. If he does not do this, our knowledge of him will always remain superficial. We may even find ourselves assuming things about him that are not true.

So it is also with God. We may be able to learn a lot about God with our contemplation of the cosmos, but it will only ever be a superficial knowledge. What is more, by knowing God only at this level, we will begin to assume things about him that are not true. This is what has happened numerous times throughout history.

To get to know God on a deeper level, it would require God to speak to us. And this is what God has done.

How is it that he has spoken to us so that we may know him? 

The Early Days

I think that in the first days of creation, God speaking to man was not a difficult task. In those early days, God walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, presumably having conversation with the first man and woman (Genesis 3:8). However, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s sovereignty, that fellowship was lost. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, and those days of easy conversation came to an end.

For the first time, there was estrangement between God and his creation. This separation from God has been the natural state of man ever since that time. Even today, we remain in this state of estragement until we make an effort to try to get to know the Lord. For his part, God is doing, and has always done his best to reconnect with us.

Some people may question this fact. Some may think if God were only to do something more, or to do something different, such as speak directly to us or to answer our prayer for healing when we are sick, we would more likely to believe in him.

But this is just not true. Any reading of the Biblical stories and narratives show us that belief in God is not a question of evidence. Rather, our belief is a question of our willingness to respond to the evidence that we do have. It is a question of our acceptance of what he shows us.

If we are sincere about our desire to pursue a knowledge of God, we will try to learn what God is telling us about himself. When we show that we accept God on one level, he will then open up more about himself to us.

Again, it is not so much different than getting to know another person. When you first meet someone, that person does not immediately tell you all of his deepest hopes and dreams. They do not immediately tell you their most intimate thoughts. Instead, as the friendship deepens, this person increasingly begin to trust you with who he is. He begins to open up more to you about himself. 

Abraham’s Journey to Know God

Concerning a relationship with God and learning who God is, a very good example of this is the Old Testament story of Abraham. When we first learn of this man, he was living in the city of Ur, which was near the Persian Gulf in present day Iraq and on the opposite side of the Arabian Peninsula as present day Israel. Ur was the city of one of the earliest advanced civilizations that archeologists have been able to excavate. In those explorations, they have found some astounding evidences of progress in that ancient city.

This was the home of Abraham when God called him to leave all that he had, to go to a place where God was going to direct him (Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2-3). I do not know how much information about this future home that God gave Abraham at that time, but apparently, before that time, Abraham had never been to this “promised land” that God spoke of. I would be surprised if Abraham really knew much at all about what God had in mind.

We often do not think about the implications of the decision that Abraham was asked to make. Abraham seems to have already been a rather wealthy man in the city of Ur. It is probable that he could have chosen to simply stay there and have a comfortable life – comfortable at least by the world’s standards. Or he could believe God and go to this unknown place of unsure future.


Our Own Journey to Know God

In a similar situation as that of Abraham, what would have been your choice? Actually, as you look back on your life, what have been your choices in the past? The consequences that you have faced in the past were undoubtedly not as severe as those of Abraham’s, but nevertheless, did you choose the safety of your present circumstance at the time, or did you choose to believe God?

It does not mean that this decision was moving to a different and unknown place, but it may have been something as simple as whether to study the Bible to try to find an answer to a question that you have about your life, or watching TV. It may have been as simple as choosing to get up on Sunday morning so you can make it to an 8:30 AM church service, or rolling over on your pillow and sleeping in.

The manner in which you answer questions like that will give you a good indication of how you would have responded if you had been Abraham.

Abraham chose to get up. 

Abraham et al

I do not intend to go through the entire story of Abraham at this time, but would only like to focus on two places where God took great care in order to allow Abraham get to know him in ways that spoke to his deeper needs.

The first of these times was when Abraham had just won a great victory in battle. At that moment, one would think that Abraham would be celebrating his victory. But Abraham was not celebrating. He instead was somewhat in despair. Abraham was in need of some assurance from God.

The Lord came to him in a vision, and told him, “Do not fear Abram (his name at that time), I am a shield to you and your reward will be very great” (Genesis 15:1).

Abraham’s fear was not that he would be overrun by some army, but he despaired because at that time he had no descendants who would carry on his legacy. To this need, the Lord responded, “I am the Lord who brought you out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land and to possess it” (Genesis 15:7).

God then had Abraham go outside so that he could see the
Hubble Telescope Image
myriad of stars in the clear desert sky. “Count the stars if you are able to do so,” God told him. Of course, Abraham could not. The stars were far too numerous to even begin to count.
“So shall your descendants be,” God told him.

You will have to read the entire story in the Bible to get the full implication of the lesson, but what I would like to point out is that as Abraham moved ahead with faithfulness in his life with the Lord, God revealed more of himself and his plan to him.

But the promised descendant did not immediately come. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, he still had no children by his wife Sarah. During a period of weakness in his faith, he had fathered an illegitimate son, but God had made it clear that this was not to be the son of promise.

God again appeared to Abraham. “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,” he told him. He continued… “Walk before me and be blameless, and I will establish My covenant with you, and I will multiply you exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1-2 NAS).

In this statement of God’s, I would like you to notice especially two phrases: “I am” and “I will.” God uses these phrases together in other parts of the Scriptures. In each of these places, by saying “I am,” God reveals and confirms who he is. Then, based upon who he is, with the “I will,” he tells his intentions to do something.

It is very worthwhile to study Abraham’s life. His was a real journey of faith, a faith that resulted in knowing God in ways that few other men have ever known him. So close did their relationship become that he became known as “the friend of God” (James 2:23).
 
Abraham’s story may be extraordinary, but it is not unique. You can also study the story of Jacob, or of Moses, for instance, and see how God increasingly revealed himself to these men as their relationship grew. And it not only is men, but I have also learned much from some of the women of the Bible. Ruth the Moabitess, for instance, or especially significant in this Christmas season, Mary the mother of Jesus.

Their stories and others found in the Bible are life lessons for us. We neglect our own spiritual growth if we do not study them. Simply to read about these men and women and others in the Bible is not enough. You need to study their lives.
 
You et al

However, now I would like to talk about your life. How has your relationship with God been progressing? You got out of bed this morning in time to make our 8:30 service, so that is a good sign. But I am going to ask you to take an honest look at your life.

Are you progressing in your relationship with God, as did Abraham and the others? To be progressing does not mean that you never have doubts or periods of weakness, as any reading to the lives of these Biblical characters will show. However, it does mean that when the difficult decisions come, you will choose to believe and to follow God.

Do you need assurances? Abraham did, Moses did and Mary did. They all did. We all need assurances. Sometimes we all need to look up at the stars, so to speak, so that God can demonstrate his promises to us. 

I AM and I WILL

There are many places in the Bible where we can read of God’s promises, but place that I turn to from time to time is in the book of Isaiah. Here, God is speaking as if to Israel and to Judah, but he is actually speaking to all those that are following him. I am going to quote only a few verses of this portion, which begins in the forty-first chapter and continues for several chapters, but you can read it more closely later. I want to focus on two phrases in these chapters – the phrases that I mentioned earlier. “I am,” and “I will.” 

Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (NAS).

To those who want to get to know God and who have decided to trust him, he says, “I am with you and I am your God.”

What will he do? He will strengthen you, he will help you, and he will surely uphold you with his righteous right hand.

As you read on, you begin to see the innermost heart of this one who wants you to get to know him. God continues: 

“Since you are precious in my sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.”

“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth. Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (Isaiah 43:5-7 NAS).

All throughout history, God has been calling to out to anyone who would hear. When was the last time you actually took the time to hear him? He shows us his power and majesty by his great creation, and he affirms time and time again by his words that he is calling to us.

Although the passages are quite numerous in the Bible where God couples the “I am” with the “I will,” I want to mention just one more verse. This one is from the book of Psalms:

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 ESV).

It is time for you to exalt him in your life.

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